With LGBTQ inclusion currently the most talked about topic (and the most controversial one) in Christian churches across the country, I’ve been asked a lot recently by those who ARE affirming, how their church can be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community and communicate that their church is a safe place for LGBTQ people to attend.
Here are 7 ways I believe your church can be more LGBTQ+ inclusive:
1. Have a Clearly Affirming Statement on Your Website.
A clearly affirming statement is the very FIRST thing I (and many others) look at to determine if a church is safe. If you want to truly include and affirm LGBTQ people, you can’t be ambiguous. Something along the lines of, “We celebrate and honor the diversity of all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or ability. This means that we also welcome LGBTQ+ people in all levels of participation and leadership including marriage, baptism, and ordination.” A statement like this will leave few questions unanswered and little doubt in the LGBTQ person’s mind as to where your church stands on full inclusion.
The church I currently attend in Denver is one that I believe does this well. You can view their statement here.
Also, make sure that your statement is either on the front page of your website or under the “About” or “Beliefs” section where it is easy to find. Searching too hard for your statement makes LGBTQ people wonder if you’re trying to hide/bury it. LGBTQ people have been hidden and dismissed for so long; they want a statement that is open so they know that they themselves can be open.
2. Register Your Church on ChurchClarity.org.
Once you have a clearly affirming statement up on your website, register your church on ChurchClarity.org. Church Clarity is an organization that evaluates churches on their LGBTQ policies and gives them a rating so that LGBTQ people and their loved ones can search for affirming churches in their area OR find the status of a church they are thinking about or already attending. You may already have a rating on Church Clarity whether you know it or not. Search for your church, and if you don’t like what you see there, submit it to be re-evaluated once you have your policies clearly outlined on your website. There’s are lots of LGBTQ people who are seeking out safe places to worship, so this is a simple way to help people know that you are a safe place for them to belong.
3. Let the Way You Value Diversity be Represented in Your Staff and Leadership.
As an inter-racial, female, gay couple where my wife is a first-generation immigrant and I live with invisible disabilities, diversity is extremely important to us. I can’t tell you how many churches I’ve gone to where they say they value diversity and affirm LGBTQ people, yet their stage is still full of white, straight, cisgender men. It ends up not feeling any different than the evangelical churches we grew up in. My wife doesn’t want to be the only person of color, nor do we want to be the token gay couple. We also (much to straight people’s surprise!) don’t want a “gay church” where only LGBTQ people attend! We simply want to be part of a beautifully diverse body of people in all their colors and abilities and backgrounds and forms of love and identity. So encouraging diversity of all kinds in your leadership not only makes for a healthier church, but will also draw in more diversity from those who attend. This may take time to attain, but it will make a difference.
4. Have Gender Neutral Restrooms.
Having gender neutral restrooms available is crucial for transgender or gender non-binary people to feel safe. If you have a small church with single stall bathrooms, there is no reason that those can’t be made gender neutral. If you are part of a larger church that currently has bathrooms with multiple stalls, then be sure to have at least one single stall restroom available that is gender neutral. It could also be made to be an accessible restroom or a family restroom. Something like using the restroom is a basic human need that most of us take for granted, yet is something that can cause great distress for those who identify outside the binary of male or female. Having gender neutral restrooms will make them feel more comfortable and safe attending your church, and will also communicate that they are valued and matter to your community.
5. Have a Free Lending Library of Supportive Resources.
It’s not uncommon for churches to have a small lending library, but filling that library up with affirming resources will help your LGBTQ members know that they are truly celebrated and supported with you. If you’re not sure where to start, here is a list of recommended reading that I have on my website.
6. Intentionally Use Inclusive Language From the Stage.
It is easy to fall into what is comfortable when it comes to language and how we talk about God and faith, but training yourself to use inclusive language will go a long way in helping your LGBTQ people feel like fully-affirmed members of your community. Instead of thinking of people as strictly male or female, think about the spectrum of gender and include people in your stories and sermon examples that may identify as intersex, transgender, or gender non-binary. Likewise, when talking about marriage, remember your same-sex couples and don’t automatically assume certain gender roles within a marriage or that all families look the same. These things may take some thought initially, but will come easier with time and will certainly make for a more inclusive community.
7. Remember Your LGBTQ People During the Holidays.
Holidays are still one of the most challenging times for LGBTQ people. Whether they’re completely estranged from their family, or perhaps they are “tolerated” rather than celebrated, it creates a lot of complicated emotions and feelings of loneliness, loss, and isolation. For big holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, consider hosting a meal where everyone who needs a place to go could come and be a part of a larger church family celebration. For smaller holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, remember that this can be an especially painful day for those that have been disowned from their families of origin. Reach out with a call or a text, or send a card in the mail to let them know that you’re thinking of them and that they’re not alone. Birthdays and anniversaries are private holidays that are typically celebrated with family, but when family isn’t there…these days become eerily quiet and lonesome. Whether you decide to reach out as staff to your LGBTQ members during these times or you decide to cultivate ownership of that within your community of those who attend the church, making this effort will go a long way in letting your LGBTQ people know that they are deeply loved and truly belong with you.
This list is certainly not an exhaustive one, but I hope it gets you thinking and provides you with some tools to make your faith community more inclusive of LGBTQ people.
If you found this helpful, please share it with your own faith circles, with your pastor, or on social media. It’s obvious that we need more inclusive and affirming churches for LGBTQ people to belong and thrive in, and by spreading this around, you can each can play a part in making that a reality.
Be Brave, Live Unashamed,
In my work with LGBTQ people and their families, I hear an abundance of both heartbreaking and redeeming stories. The heartbreaking ones remind me of why I do the work that I do, while the redeeming ones are a reflection of the work that we as a progressive faith community are accomplishing. However, this past year, I’ve had a handful of both public and private encounters that have reminded me that we have not come as far as we think when it comes to educating those who say they support us. Whether people realize it or not, a great deal of responsibility comes along with being an LGBTQ ally (or an ally of any marginalized group.) This post is meant to outline some traits of a true ally in hopes that you will read it, meditate on it, and grow because of it…and then, that you will share it with others.
This post might make you uncomfortable…and that is good. If you can lean into it, you will grow. So I invite you to take a deep breath, open your heart, and read with a spirit that is willing to learn…for that is how we make the world a better place.
1. You Must Identify Your Own Privilege and How it Has Empowered You.
As a straight, cisgender person, there are privileges afforded to you that have not been afforded to LGBTQ people. Have you ever had to scan the room before holding your partner’s hand to gauge the safety level of room? Did you have to think twice about if you would be allowed to get married in the venue of your choice? Have you ever had to correct someone when they see your wedding ring and automatically assume that you are married to a person of the opposite sex? Or worry about losing your job if your employer knows who you love? Have you ever had to deal with the intense anxiety and mental anguish that comes with being disowned by your family for something you cannot change? The answer to these questions, of course, is no. You’ve never had to experience these things because as a straight, cisgender person, you are considered to be part of the cultural norm. But until you recognize the imbalance of power between your privilege and those who are marginalized, you can never truly be considered an ally.
“Until you recognize the imbalance of power between your privilege and those who are marginalized, you can never truly be considered an ally.”
QUESTIONS FOR INTROSPECTION: What doors has your privilege opened for you that you aren’t even aware of? How do those opportunities differ for LGBTQ people (specifically LGBTQ people of faith)? Buzzfeed has created a checklist for you to find out how much privilege you live with. I encourage you to take a few minutes and click here to find out.
2. You Must Use Your Privilege to Elevate the Marginalized.
This is a two-part task. The first part is that you must speak up and speak out. Using your voice (as a person of privilege) to bring attention to, and raise awareness of, the ways in which people are being marginalized is crucial for the forward movement of LGBTQ equality. It is not enough for you to love LGBTQ people quietly behind closed doors. LGBTQ people are dying at the hands of ignorance, fear, and bad theology. We must speak up and speak out in order to reduce the amount of lives that are being lost every day. Whether you speak out in person when you hear someone say something unjust, or whether you use your social media feeds to promote conversations of equality, you must use your voice to advocate for change. Ginette Sagan said, “Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor,” and she’s absolutely right. To remain silent implies apathy and consent. You cannot remain neutral (aka silent) and call yourself an ally.
“You cannot remain neutral (aka silent) and call yourself an ally.”
The second part of this task is that actions speak louder than words. As we just discussed, your words and your voice are undoubtedly important. But if your words say one thing (“I’m an ally”) and your actions say another (“I don’t want to lose my privilege”)…you are not truly an ally. Your words must be congruent with your life in order to gain the respect and trust of LGBTQ people.
Questions for Introspection: Where have I spoken up for the dignity and worth of LGBTQ people? Where have I failed to speak up? Are my words and actions consistent with my life? In what way can I use my privilege to elevate the voice of the marginalized?
3. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.
If you truly care about social justice and equality, you need to care about it in every aspect of your life. Words of love and friendship mean nothing if you continue to fuel the problems of injustice with your actions and finances. This doesn’t mean that you have to exceed your budget or do more than you can financially afford. It means that you begin to think differently about where you spend your money and what kind of policies/systems are being perpetuated with that money. Giving or spending your money at institutions or stores that are known for their anti-LGBTQ policies (or who support conversion therapy) continues to perpetuate a society of hate, discrimination, and inequality. A few changes you can consider making are:
- Stop donating goods to organizations like The Salvation Army, and instead donate your items to another organization that values and celebrates diversity in all its forms.
- Stop shopping at places like Hobby Lobby, and instead shop at Michael’s, JoAnn’s, or another craft supplier.
- Stop tithing to non-affirming churches, and instead give to churches that are fully-affirming or to organizations that are working directly with the LGBTQ faith population. (Come on, I know that one made you uncomfortable!)
- Intentionally shop at stores that champion diversity, like Target, JCPenny, and Starbucks (who, by the way has the most comprehensive transgender health policy in the world. Read more here.)
Bottom line, saying you support LGBTQ people when you continue to invest your money in ways that directly harm or limit their access to equality is to still live within your privilege, without thinking about those who live without it.
“Continuing to invest your money in ways that directly harm or limit (LGBT people’s) access to equality is to still live within your privilege, without thinking about those who live without it.”
We aren’t perfect and this doesn’t mean that you have to do an in-depth Google search on every store that you ever enter, but it does mean that you think carefully about the places you invest your money, what stores you purchase from on a regular basis, and where improvements can be made.
QUESTIONS FOR INTROSPECTION: Am I currently investing my money in a place that is directly or indirectly causing harm or limited access to marginalized people? If so, what changes can I make to invest it better?
4. Put Your VOTE Where Your Mouth Is.
In case you haven’t noticed, this is a critical year in politics. We cannot afford to push issues aside or ignore them any longer claiming that they’re not “our issue.” Black people are dying at the hands of police brutality, children are dying in cages at the border, people are filing bankruptcy due to lack of affordable healthcare, white supremacy is on the rise, racism has somehow become acceptable, children are afraid to go to school because mass shootings have become a devastatingly common occurrence, and we’ve experienced a global pandemic unlike anything any of us have ever witnessed.
People, for the love of all that is good and holy, VOTE! Vote for women and people of color, vote for policies that will bring justice to our Black community, to our healthcare system, and to families separated at the border; vote for people that will address our ever-rising concern of climate change and the problems of mass incarceration. VOTE! It is one of the single most powerful things you can do to help create lasting change for the marginalized. And YOU have the opportunity and the privilege to do it simply, easily, and freely. These are not just LGBTQ concerns, these are humanity concerns and you have the opportunity (regardless of political party) to vote in a way that elevates the common good for all people.
“These are not just LGBTQ concerns, these are humanity concerns.”
QUESTIONS FOR INTROSPECTION: How has my voting in the past affected people on the margins? Have I voted for issues that will only benefit me, or have I voted for issues that will affect the common good of all people? What might I do differently this year to better elevate people in the margins?
NOTE: If you are not yet registered to vote, you can do that here: https://vote.gov/
You can also learn more about the Vote Common Good Campaign by visiting: https://www.votecommongood.com/love-in-politics-pledge/
5. Listen and Learn.
There is a lot that can be learned by simply listening to the stories of LGBTQ people. Many of them are even open to the genuinely curious questions of those seeking to better understand. But don’t expect LGBTQ people to be the ones to educate you on the “biblical interpretation of the clobber passages.” Just as you shouldn’t expect people of color to educate you on racism in America, you also shouldn’t expect LGBTQ people to educate you on theology, homophobia, or anti-gay belief systems. Instead, educate yourself. There are a number of good books that will help you (a few of my favorites are listed here.) Then, use your time with LGBTQ people to really listen and seek to understand what life is like in their shoes.
It is inevitable that you will make mistakes along the way. We all do. But if and when that happens, stay humble. Apologize for your mistake (without trying to justify why you made it!) and simply listen to how you can do better next time. A sincere apology will go a long way; a half-hearted one will not.
QUESTIONS FOR INTROSPECTION: How can I become a better listener? What topics do I still need to grow in? What resources will help educate me best in those areas?
You can’t be a half-hearted ally.
There is no middle ground.
You either have all your skin in the game, or you don’t.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t make mistakes. What it means is that you can’t hold on to your privilege and your ally card too. You can only choose one. Because when you try to hold onto both, damage is done, trust is betrayed, and people are hurt. I have seen this multiple times in both my professional and personal life in recent months and I am begging you to step up and make a change.
“You can’t hold on to your privilege and your ally card too.”
We need allies. We need you. We are asking you lay down your pride, use your privilege to elevate the voices of the marginalized, and have integrity to stand by what you say–mean it with all of your heart–and then walk it out on this journey alongside us towards a more just, equal, and safe place for us all to live.
Blessed are those whose table is set with grief,
I’ve awaited this day for a very long time…today I release my first original single “Brave Lullaby.” This journey back to music has been so close to my heart. Some of you know that I grew up in a very musical family singing and performing all over the nation and even around Europe in my elementary and teenage years. But when I came out, music is something that I lost along with so many other things. This journey back to music has taken me some time to emotionally and spiritually navigate what that looks like for me now and how to make it fresh and new, while at the same time, connecting it back to that part of me that I lost.
Thank you to each of you who have supported and loved through this process. Because of you, this part of me has begun to be revived and I now get to start sharing it with others again. You can now stream “Brave Lullaby” for free at this link and if you’d like to download it into your very own music library, you can do so by going to: https://ambercantorna.com/books/ and scrolling to the bottom of the page.
Enjoy and Be Brave Today,
Hellooooo My Unashamed Friends!
I’m so excited because today is the official launch of #UnashamedLGBTQ–a new merch line I’m launching to empower LGBTQ people of faith to embrace and celebrate who they are created to be! In the shop, you’ll find affirming t-shirts, hoodies, hats and buttons for LGBTQ people and allies alike! And don’t miss our #UnashamedLGBTQ button series as well!
So head on over to the #UnashamedLGBTQ Store and check it out. If you purchase anything in the next week you get 15% off!
AND THEN…I would super appreciate it if you would also Like/Follow #UnashamedLGBTQ on social media. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! We want to get the word out about this new swag, but we need your help to do it. Likes, shares, and shout-outs are all super appreciated!
Can’t wait to see this swag on YOU and hear what you think!
Be Brave, Live Unashamed,
In the midst of Pride month, I’ve been asked multiple times: What does Pride even mean? What is it exactly that we are celebrating? Does it mean that we are boasting or flaunting our LGBTQ identity? No, that’s not what it means. Pride, especially for those of us who identify as LGBTQ people of faith, isn’t about being boastful (as in “pride goes before a fall”) but rather a confidence that who we are is beautiful and radiant, and that we are fully loved and embraced by God exactly as we are. It’s a chance to come together with others like us in a place where we feel safe to be ourselves; a place where we can be seen without having to hide. As others have said, “Pride was not born out of a need to celebrate being gay, but (out of) our right to exist without persecution.”
So if you identify as part of the LGBTQ community, celebrate your God-given identity this month with people who affirm ALL of who you are. Or use this as an opportunity to discuss with family or friends who may not be fully affirming what this month means to you, and why it is important for LGBTQ people to have this recognition every year.
If you are not LGBTQ, but a parent, pastor, friend, or ally of the LGBTQ community, here are a few ways that you can support those loved ones around you during Pride month:
- Call or send a card to an LGBTQ person this month. Acknowledging the LGBTQ people in your life and reminding them that you affirm them and stand with them can be very comforting, especially during a time in our country where people are advocating for “straight pride” and pastors are declaring that all LGBTQ people should be executed. It’s heinous, dehumanizing, and often crippling for LGBTQ people to constantly be demeaned and have to fight for their right to exist in the world. Send them a little love. It could go a very long way.
- Listen to the story of an LGBTQ person and what it has been like to walk in their shoes. If you don’t understand Pride or if you’ve never really gotten to know an LGBTQ person before (or even if you have!), find ways to listen to the stories of LGBTQ people. If there aren’t any in your sphere of influence, then you need to broaden your sphere. You can also hear many stories of LGBTQ people through podcasts like Queerology, and through projects like Q Christian Fellowship’s new Unchanged movement.
- Tell your story of how you became affirming to people you encounter throughout the month. If you’re affirming of LGBTQ people, chances are, you didn’t get there by accident. Most likely you’ve walked a road of your own that has led you to this stance, whether that’s because a close family member or friend came out to you, or whether you went through a faith deconstruction of your own, or whether you simply took a stand because you didn’t like the way you saw LGBTQ people being treated. Share that story with people who may not be quite where you are yet, and tell them why that has been transformative for you.
- Attend a Pride parade. If you’ve never been to a Pride event, step outside your comfort zone a little and go to one this year. You may see some rather “colorful” things, but remember that no one person represents all LGBTQ people. Try and see the heart of the reason behind why people are there: they need a safe place to be and bring all of who they are without having to hide. Sometimes that may mean going to more extreme forms of self expression because they so rarely have the chance to freely express themselves. Sometimes that may mean simply hanging out with like-minded people and having a good time. Sometimes that might mean falling apart in the arms of someone who offers them a Free Mom or Free Dad Hug. Whatever it is, open your eyes and look for the meaning behind the event and see what you can learn from those around you.
- Donate to an LGBTQ faith leader or organization that is doing work to bring about change, acceptance, and justice for LGBTQ people. There are numerous people doing incredible work to create a safer and more loving place for LGBTQ people to live and thrive. There are also a number of incredible people doing great work specifically with LGBTQ people of faith. A one-time (or monthly) donation to one (or several) of these organizations will help us collectively continue to move the needle forward so that less LGBTQ people face rejection and harm, and more find a place of true love and belonging. If you’re not sure where a good place is to put your money, a few organizations or people that I wholeheartedly support are: Free Mom Hugs, the Queerology podcast, and Q Christian Fellowship. You can also support me and help continue the work I do with LGBTQ people of faith by donating HERE.
Whatever ways you decide to support LGBTQ people during Pride month this year, my hope is that you will see more facets of God in the people that you meet than you ever dreamed possible, and that in return for your love and generosity, you will be richly rewarded with beautiful stories and examples of Divine love.
Happy Pride Everyone! Be bold, live unashamed,
So the truth is…I’m a sporadic blogger. I’m not good at rolling out blogs on a regular basis, and I have reprimanded myself for it time and time again. I compare myself to other bloggers who create new posts weekly like clockwork, and who engage in debates around everything related to justice on social media, and think to myself…”I need to be more like them.” The internal pressure I put upon myself ultimately leaves me feeling inadequate, like I fail to measure up to others in my lane, and (to use Brene Brown language) like I’m “not enough and therefore unworthy of belonging”.
Then I realized when I looked a little closer, that authors (especially those that published 2 books in under 2 years) didn’t blog regularly either. And I took a bit of a breath. But still I felt the pressure.
Eventually, this is something that I have had to come to terms with and accept about myself and my current situation. I do not have a manager, or an agent, or event planner, or a social media guru, or a marketing person…those are all things I do myself on top of writing, speaking, traveling, and managing my personal life and working another job. So it’s a lot.
Some of you may know (and others of you may not) that I also have chronic health issues. I deal with chronic pain and chronic fatigue on a daily basis and my immune system does not function properly. This in itself has been a huge challenge and taken a lot to manage. I’ve had to learn to do things differently than most people, to manage my time better, and to be very gracious and patient with myself, my body, and the limitations I currently live within. I am a “spoonie” which means that I have to ration the amount of energy I’m given every day with the tasks that need to be completed. If a “normal” person wakes up with twenty spoons everyday…on a good day, I may wake up with fifteen, on a bad day I may wake up with only five…never do I get all twenty. So it becomes a strategy game of time management, saying “no” to things I’d really like to do, and listening to what my body needs…which is definitely not what I anticipated at this stage of my life. (If you’re not familiar with the term “spoonie”, you can read about it HERE.)
So I’ve had to learn to accept my blogging “flaws” and give myself grace to not run the hamster wheel of perfection. And hope that you all love me in spite (or maybe because of) it.
Maybe it’s time to give yourself some grace too. Maybe it’s time to breathe, go for a walk, take a nap, read a good book, and just let that thing on your to-do list sit awhile longer. In the end, your health and time with those you love far exceeds any to-do on your list. Make memories and fill your moments with love every chance you get. As many of us have seen recently with the tragic and unexpected death of Rachel Held Evans, life is so very, very short.
When your time comes, what is it that you wish you would have done more of?
Whatever it is…do that. And let go of the need to please, perform, and perfect. Changing the rhythm of how we work, play, and rest can be challenging but it can also be very rewarding.
Over the summer, my goal is to do a series of blog posts that will release every 2 weeks covering different topics that I’m passionate about and that have been dear to my heart in recent months. I’m hoping they will be encouraging to you…and that you’ll give me grace if they are not always released in two week increments.
With so much love,
April 14th, 2012 was the day that separated the life I had, from the life that was about to be. It was the day that defined everything. The day that determined that everyday that followed would be different from every day that came before.
The fear of coming out to my family was a weight on my chest that wouldn’t leave me alone–it followed me every second of the day and haunted me every minute of the night. I lived constantly with the anxiety that coming out as gay to my family–the family that was the epitome of perfection to the conservative Christian world–could potentially cost me everything; but I was not prepared for the fact that it actually would. With a father who’s been employed as an executive at Focus on the Family for over 30 years and a mother who stayed home to school and raise us, I knew this news would not be easy for me to share, nor easy for them to hear.
Gathering my family in my home that day, I held notes in my lap as points of reference for when my nerves got the best of me. Giving it my all, I took them on the journey I had been walking over the past several years, until the moment finally came when I told them I knew I was gay. My words hung in the air, forming what I now know to be an unbridgeable gap between us. I’d never felt more vulnerable in my life than I did in those moments awaiting their response. Then, with anger in my dad’s eyes, he simply said, “I have nothing to say to you right now,” and he walked out the door.
That door closing behind my family as they left that day felt like they were simultaneously closing the door on me, not only as their only daughter, but also as part of the family. As soon as they were out of sight, I collapsed into a puddle of devastation and tears.
THE FIRST YEAR…was the hardest. It was the year I didn’t know if I’d survive. The next conversation I had with my family was one where they looked me in the eye and told me they felt like I had died and that given the choice, they would choose God over me. They compared me being gay to murder, pedophilia, and bestiality. They called me selfish and said they no longer trusted me to have open access to their home. The unconditional love my parents professed growing up suddenly had very clear conditions attached, and as I walked out the door, they asked for the keys to their house back. That was the day I became an orphan.
Suicide was a very real threat to me in the months that followed as harsh words, passive aggressive behavior, and ghosting confronted me from all sides. I lost almost everyone and everything: my parents, my only sibling, my relatives, most of my friends, my home church of fourteen years, and the only hometown I’d ever known.
One tragedy took place after another that year ranging from loss, to critical illness, to death; it put a strain on me that, looking back, I still don’t know how I survived. I truly believe to this day that the affirming community I found in Denver, and my service dog, Half Pint, are what saved my life that year. When everyone else walked out, they stayed. And because of them, I’m alive today.
THE SECOND YEAR was the year that love entered my life. I held in tandem a dynamic of losing everyone I’d ever loved and simultaneously gaining the unconditional love of someone who, for the first time, saw the real me. I rode a rollercoaster as the connection with my family became ever more strained, and yet I discovered joy and peace in my own skin unlike any I’d ever known. I fell in love, but couldn’t share that love with my very own family. By the end of this second year, I was engaged, and ready to share what should be some of the most exciting news of my life with the world, but rather than sharing that news with my family first, they ended up being among the last to know. It broke my heart in a way that words can’t explain. Yet somehow, the freedom I was finding to be myself kept me moving forward, as I slowly let go of the the love and acceptance my heart craved from my family.
THE THIRD YEAR was the year I got married. It was the day I’d always dreamed of: the white dress, the first look, the first dance. People from my affirming faith community stepped up and stood in where my family should have been, filling the gap and making the obvious emptiness bearable. It’s a day that was everything I’d always dreamed it to be…almost. And yet the ache of what my family missed that day still stays with me, knowing we can never go back. It’s too late. They missed one of the happiest days of my life. Just three months after my wedding, my family cut me off completely. Their hope for “change” had waned and they gave up on our relationship. We haven’t spoken since.
THE FOURTH YEAR was the year that we bought our first home. With the help of friends, we moved into a house and made it our own. We struggled with emptiness that comes with not having family support, especially around the holidays, and fought to bring some of the traditions of our past into our present, and to let others go in place of creating our own. It was a year of shifting, of growth, and of beginning to establish our own family, even without the love of our biological families. Together, we held onto love and let that fill our life.
THE FIFTH YEAR was the year I wrote Refocusing My Family and began sharing my story with the world. Following what was clearly the voice of God through one of my friends, I was told that “Embedded in my identity, was a responsibility to be a voice for change.” I knew God was calling me. It was a hard and taxing book to write, but so rewarding. That year was the launch of what has now become my life’s work: writing, speaking, and using my story to help others with theirs.
THE SIXTH YEAR was a year of continuing to grieve for the loss of what could or should have been with my family, while also finding strength and grounding in the family my wife and I were creating together. It was a year of letting go, a year of building up, and a year of finding strength in each other when things were tough. As I traveled and spoke across the country, I heard hundreds of stories that were far too similar to mine and because of it, soon published a second book (Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians) in order to provide the very first resource for LGBTQ people of faith to navigate the complications of internalized homophobia, coming out, setting healthy boundaries, grieving rejection and loss, and embracing who God created them to be to the fullest.
THE SEVENTH YEAR…this year…is the year that I strive to embrace healing and wholeness to its full capacity. It’s the year that I seek to pour life into others, and be filled with life myself. Amidst all the pain and loss I’ve experience over the past seven years, I can honestly say I wouldn’t go back or trade what I have now for the world.
I came alive the day I came out, and my family has missed the happiest years of my life.
I now get the privilege of doing deeply meaningful work by helping other LGBTQ people of faith find their own purpose and self-acceptance. I get to live my life free of shame, guilt, and condemnation and instead know that there is a God bigger than my box that loves me completely and unconditionally. And I get to share a love with my wife which only continues to draw me closer to the divine Spirit of God.
If you are an LGBTQ person of faith struggling to come out, know that there is love, acceptance, and peace waiting for you on the other side. You can love God and a person of the same-sex without any conflict in between. You can be LGBTQ and be at peace with the fact that God loves you fully and completely exactly as you are. For more helpful information, check out my Resources page.
If you are a parent, pastor, or ally of an LGBTQ person, I urge you to see the damage that faulty religion has done to my family and make a different choice for yours. You don’t have to understand completely to love unconditionally. Be willing to learn, to grow, and to expand your understanding of God. You willingness to be stretched could save the life of the ones you love.
I came out seven years ago today. I love my life and I’m not looking back.
Amber Cantorna is a national speaker and the author of Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians and Refocusing My Family. You can learn more about her work and view her speaking schedule at AmberCantorna.com or follow her on social media @AmberNCantorna. To support the continuation of Amber’s work, visit: Amber’s Patreon Page.
As the recent United Methodist Church’s decision to tighten their restrictions on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and performing same-sex marriage demonstrates, being LGBTQ and Christian can be difficult and unwelcoming. But there is hope and there are affirming faith communities who embrace Christians of all kinds.
Author and LGBTQ advocate Amber Cantorna (Refocusing My Family: Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering the True Love of God) empathizes with the feelings of loss, depression, and despair that LGBTQ Christians are feeling. As the gay daughter of a thirty-year-plus Focus on the Family executive, Cantorna was cast out of her family and her church when she came out. However, Cantorna found acceptance and healing through her faith and by finding an affirming community to support her during her coming-out journey. Now as part of her work dedicated to reconnecting LGBTQ Christians with their faith, Cantorna has published, Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians.
This practical and rich guide is invaluable for LGBTQ Christians as they consider coming out, and it is a precious tool for the allies who walk alongside them. Cantorna shares the wisdom she’s gained and teaches others about demolishing their internalized homophobia or transphobia, finding or building an affirming faith community, preparing to come out and coming out to loved ones, setting healthy boundaries, and coping with conditional love.
“LGBTQ Christians are desperate for guidance on how to navigate the unexpected journey of coming out,” Cantorna says. “They’ve been backed into a corner by religion, taught to be ashamed of who they are, and have lived in fear of being abandoned by both God and those they love if the truth about their identity leaks out. They want to live authentically, but they lack the needed resources to guide them.”
Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide to LGBTQ Christians is now available from Westminster John Knox Press and other major retailers.
Amber Cantorna is a national speaker, a columnist for Patheos, and the author of Refocusing My Family: Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering the True Love of God. As a leader dedicated to supporting LGBTQ people throughout their coming-out process, Cantorna uses her platform to inspire others and works to dissolve shame, foster self-acceptance, and generate a message of love and inclusion for all.
-Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY (March 12th, 2019)
Advanced Praise for Unashamed
“Unashamed is a step-by-step guide to liberation, a manual for answering that holy call to stand in our own God-given skin and be exactly who we are.”
—Linda Kay Klein, author of PURE: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free
“Amber speaks with the wisdom of someone who has lived through the kind of shame only evangelicalism can impart. For those with the courage to let the world know who they are, Unashamed will guide you, lovingly and
competently, one step at a time.”
—Paula Stone Williams, Pastor, TED speaker, LGBTQ advocate
“Unashamed is the book I wish my child would have had when he came out. With practicality, compassion, and wisdom that comes from personal experience, Amber Cantorna broaches coming out in a way that no other
book has done.”
—Sara Cunningham, founder of Free Mom Hugs and author of How We Sleep at Night: A Mother’s Memoir
“Amber Cantorna beautifully radiates God’s love and hope for all God’s children as she masterfully weaves together helpful action steps and stories that are both informative and empowering. Unashamed is filled with golden nuggets of hope, healing, and truth. . . A must-read for everyone!”
—Jane Clementi, cofounder and CEO of the Tyler Clementi Foundation
“As the gay, closeted son of a Southern Baptist pastor, I didn’t think I’d ever come out. It was too scary. . . . I had no guidance, no resources, and very little confidence. I felt like the only person in the world who’d gone through this. Thanks to Amber Cantorna, no closeted Christian LGBTQ person should ever have to feel that way again.”
—B. T. Harman, creator of the blog and podcast Blue Babies Pink
“This is Amber Cantorna at her best! She takes the nitty-gritty experiences that every LGBTQ person of faith experiences and breaks them down in an incredibly accessible way. . . . Reading it feels like having a personal coach on all things LGBTQ and Christian. It’s just so good!”
—Candice Czubernat, founder and therapist at the Christian Closet
“Unashamed is a heartfelt, supportive resource for LGBTQ Christians finding their place in the church and in the world. I’m so glad Amber Cantorna created such a vital and important work.”
-Mike McHargue, host of Ask Science Mike and author of Finding God in the Waves